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The future of work for today's teens

We can't compete with China or India for cheap labour -- so our teenagers need to be nerded up. Bad skin and glasses should be positively encouraged

AT the moment they are just gawky youths in hoodies or Ugg boot-wearing bottle blondes with a taste for too much orange makeup -- but today's 15-year-olds will be the drivers of our economy in 2020... if they are pointed in the right career direction.

After the economic splatterfest, one can only hope that the jobs market in a decade will be vastly different to the current mess with its near 14 per cent unemployment rate. It certainly looks as if careers in auctioneering, hotels, commercial property development and financing and other property-related pursuits may be a bust as we switch to building wind farms or horsing out thousands of new iPhone apps.

The first obvious change we may see over the next 10 years is that more and more of us will be working for ourselves. Ireland will become a country of entrepreneurs, predicts Enterprise Ireland boss Frank Ryan. "It is more likely that we will work for small and medium enterprise or be self-employed rather than work for large corporations or the government," he told the Sunday Independent. The building blocks for this are -- to some extent -- being put in place with enterpreneurship classes in school and for the unemployed. God help us if Fas is involved.

Enterprise Ireland has a special unit which "scales up" promising Irish business and gives entrepreneurs a heave-ho to turn them into something approaching the next Facebook or Intel, hopefully with similar job numbers.

There are some big names with bright futures, according to Ryan, including the Dermot Desmond-backed biometric security firm Daon, Paul Kerley's financial security software group Norkom, clinical research group Icon and other fast-growing companies including Creganna, Curam and Steripac. But it will take time, not to mention a wodge of good fortune, for these companies to break out and become massive.

"After you have had the blinding flash of inspiration, it'll still take five to seven years to get your company up to a turnover of €15m a year or more. It rarely happens faster than that," according to Ryan.

While we were happy enough to drive around in Range Rovers and 4x4s during the boom, rural and agricultural industries took something of a back seat. This may change as we go back to basics and concentrate on something we're good at. Ireland could see a massive resurgence in the domestic food industry.

"It is going to enjoy considerable growth driven by changing demographics," according to future trend-spotter Gerard O'Neill of Amarch Consulting. Beef and dairy will be buoyed by the continuing growth in the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. "If you wanted to have a good punt on something, it might be to invest in good arable land," says O'Neill. Ireland's food and agricultural sector could also be a net beneficiary from climate change.

Ireland's response to climate change could and should create massive numbers of jobs such as aeronautical engineers for designing windfarm turbines to those installing solar panels or electric car-charging stations. "The employment potential in the Green space is very significant. Independent analysis shows there could be about 50,000 jobs sustained consistently over a 10-year period or the equivalent of multiple Dells setting up in Ireland," according to Gene Murtagh, chief executive of listed insulation and building materials firm Kingspan, which is backed by former US vice-president Al Gore.

"The economic benefits are obvious -- increased tax take, reductions in welfare, and minimisation of emissions' fines. There is an opportunity over the next decade for Ireland to become a European authority on true low-energy technology but not without a dramatic change in mindset across the public which will only come about through genuine leadership that is focused on achieving these aims, according to Murtagh.

Ireland will also be more of a services-based economy by 2020, predicts University of Limerick economist Stephen Kinsella.

We'll be providing centralised services such as accountancy, administration or services for multinationals. In other words, all of Microsoft or Google's legal work or its accountancy needs could be serviced from a hub in Ireland. Or all the software localisation for the video games industry. The possibilities are endless.

We already punch above our weight in the software and drugs industry, thanks to the far-sighted policies of the Eighties and early-Nineties. There's life in those old dogs yet. "We'll still have some growth in information and communication technologies and in the pharmaceutical sector," Ryan believes.

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Ireland's other growth businesses could centre around IT. "It was flavour of the month in the 1990s and early 2000s, but then we lost the run of ourselves," Gerard O'Neill notes.

Sectors such as gaming, new apps and data-mining could really begin to rock.

O'Neill also believes that technology-based services such as distance learning could be big in the future. Technology could also help growth in international financial services administration and the education services -- such as language schools.

Science Foundation Ireland has been carefully funding all kinds of cutting-edge research.

Some of this may really take off over the next decade, providing real job opportunities for highly educated workers. It's real blue-sky stuff, like semantic web (a way of understanding how the internet works and making searching it easier), systems biology (a new branch of bio-science) and personalised medicine (drugs designed for individuals based on their genetic make-up).

The ageing population will also create business opportunities and the major growth in healthcare and the "caring" industries. This "hi-touch" industry could also see the return of call centres to Ireland. Not the soulless office blocks of Ireland circa 1995, but "contact and care" operations where trained professionals -- using web tools -- will monitor and help the infirm in their homes.

The IDA and Intel are already busy working on a €30m home for the future project, which may involve some of these technologies, according to O'Neill.

While Seanie Fitz and David Drumm may have sent Irish banking back to the dark ages, some sectors will continue to grow. The IFSC will continue to play a major role in Ireland's economy, according to Prof Eamonn Walsh of UCD'S Smurfit business school.

However, while it may still focus on fund management, the IFSC may change due to increasing regulation. Walsh sees investment management as a key growth area, with investors switching from stocks and shares to "innovative fixed-income products". The IFSC may also position itself as a base for other countries seeking to raise money on the markets. Sovereign wealth funds and Sharia finance could also be targeted.

The economy may be banjaxed and capital spending shrinking but €34bn has been earmarked for major construction projects under the Government's Transport 21 programme. How much of that €34bn will actually be spent is anyone's guess, but it's still an investment programme -- and that means jobs.

"There will always be opportunities in infrastructure," according to Engineers Ireland president John Power, who cites road, broadband, hospitals, schools and airports as key areas for investment and development.

The domestic construction sector will remain banjaxed for years. Gerard O'Neill feels that it will be at least 2015 before there is any expansion in the sector. However, Irish firms which earned their spurs building roads and bridges during the boom could export these skills abroad.

There is a gap for construction skills in the BRIC and emerging economies. While Irish navvies dug the ditches and Tarmacked the motorways in postwar Britain, now we are aiming higher. We'll be telling people how to dig the ditches and Tarmac the road, as well as designing dams or oil refineries and logistics parks around the world.

One of the key drivers of the future economy and jobs market in 10 years' time will come from the extraordinary amount of nookie going on at the moment which has led to a spike in the birth rate. This will necessitate a focus on education and children.

There's no point in producing gazillions of new workers if they aren't highly educated. We can't compete with China or India for cheap labour, so our teenagers need to be nerded up. Bad skin and glasses should be positively encouraged as higher skills and qualifications help us compete with countries like Singapore, Holland and the UK.

Worryingly, we've all got the exact same plan to get out of this mess.

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